Sunday, April 20, 2008

Blue Streak, Black Arrow

Bill Higgins is boasting about buying a very cool secondhand book indeed; Manned Spaceflight Operations, stamped "Edwards Air Force Base".

I'll see that, and raise him the best comment ever. We didn't track down the Texas Instruments thing, but Colin in comments brought us this:
Well, I watched this one: In the bad old 60's when tubes (valves to fellow Yorkshiremen) were top technology and our missiles needed lots of them, me and my fellow tech men had to sort out the best from the worst in large vibrating testers. The 97% not-so-good one's were either used for the parking lot improvements or were spirited away for the booming home stereo market.
The parking lots eventually became too high to use so they found some other way. This occurred in my sight at DeHavilland Lostock and DeHavilland Hatfield. This all sounds very similar to your TI story. Colin.
I have a reader who worked for De Havilland Dynamics? That's ridiculously cool. Where were you on the 17th? Eh? Eh?

Bourgeois COIN

The Independent has been doing a great job tracking a crucial new trend of our times; the way modern counterinsurgent practitioners are making common features of suburban life into quiet weapons against the common enemy. 12th April:
Under the protection programme, sometimes called School Councils or School Shuras, villagers agree to provide a small quota of night watchmen to take turns on guard. "Parent power is exactly what it is," an education official said. "We bring parents, teachers and some key people in the community together to agree to protect the schools."

In Logar province last month, a primary school was saved by a gang of furious fathers who chased would-be arsonists into the night. The head of the local PTA, Basir, said armed men approached a co-ed primary school for more than 600 students after midnight. "They had guns and petrol to burn the school. But the guards saw them and started shouting," he said. "Everyone came out of their houses and when the terrorists realised, they ran away."

What are you doing for the PTA, Mick and Ruth? Well, I'm organising the jumble sale, and Mick is leading the school council to cut the Taliban area leader's head off and stick it on a spike.

Elsewhere, in High Wycombe, only yards from RAF Strike Command's nuclear bunker, dinner parties and interior decoration snobbery are deployed to win hearts and minds.
"It might seem a bit aspirational to be thinking a few dinner parties can change the world, but it's got to start somewhere," says Richard Hoyle, 50, another guest of the Hickmans. "Anything that's breaking down barriers has got to make a bit of a difference."
Aspirational; now there's New Labour for you.

You're fit, but don't you just know it...

Time for some rugby league blogging, right? I saw London knock Castleford out of the cup on Saturday, and I can report that I'm beginning to think London (sorry, sorry, Harlequins RL) are getting to be dangerous. Cas dominated the first half and went in 12-0 up, but ended up with a 42-14 thrashing. They were, as it happens, missing their star loose forward Jon Westerman, who I was looking forward to seeing, but I doubt he'd have changed anything. When a team just gets run over like that, individuals don't matter much.

What does matter is that London are ferociously fit this year; Brian McDermott has really prepared a side almost as tough as he is (hey, he's been a Royal Marine Commando, a prizefighter, a British Lion, and a Yorkshire Dales hill farmer; enough macho to kill a normal man). And they are making a strategy of it; every time I've seen them recently, they've soaked up the pressure in the first half and then unexpectedly cranked up the speed after the break, which is a killer if you haven't either got the stamina to match it or a 20 point lead. It's an old Wigan trick from the 90s; it's probably as old as the game.

However, I would like to say that whoever introduced those inflatable sticks you whack together to generate noise deserves everything they get. It's not just the volume, it's the odd piercing quality of the sound; I can happily put up with RL terrace fixtures like the old dear driven by a truly disturbing blood lust, but this is new. Perhaps that's what pushed the youth-team guy who picked a vicious brawl in the club bar after the match, incidentally hurling his target at my girlfriend, over the edge. (He also saw his way to trampling on a Cas shirt and assaulting someone who looked to be his father, so who knows.)

hey hey hey, ring ring ring

This looks like a must-read; Kevin Myers' personal history of 1970s Belfast, complete with fundamentalist landladies, Provos concerned about the morality of using a condom in the initiator for a carbomb, the only civil war in history where both sides were receiving welfare benefits from the same government, the UDA as the only terrorists in history to have a regimental blazer, and the unpleasant but undeniable fact that so many people Myers knew were enjoying the war.

This bit specifically got my attention:
While Catholics were discriminated against by the Stormont civil service they were admitted into the then imperial civil service, run from London. This included the Post Office telephone system, which recruited and trained many Catholics, who became the most sophisticated electricians in Northern Ireland; some of them were in the IRA, whose bomb-makers became the finest of any terrorists in the world, while the loyalists, supposed inheritors of Ulster's great engineering traditions, continued to make what were in essence big fireworks.
You want historical irony? You want the sociology of technology? Right there. In a sense, nothing could be more appropriate for a bunch of reactionaries like the UDA than that precisely their aims - making damn sure no taigs got above semi-skilled in the shipyard - were actually sabotaging their military effectiveness. As for so many places up north, the second industrial revolution - electricity, chemicals and all that German stuff - was never particularly welcome.

Which is why, perhaps, this guy may have been more of a threat than I'd otherwise have thought. I mean, who hasn't called John Reid a tyrant? But it's this bit that's more interesting; he's a BT electrician. ISTR the Operation Crevice team were trying to recruit BT linesmen at one point; not just to chop the wires, perhaps.

The Bombardment of Walthamstow Rages On

This NYT story is nonsense. Various rightwing barkies have taken the opportunity of the French armed forces' deliciously 007-esque mission to rescue the sailing yacht Le Ponant to tout the following story around the media: the Royal Navy has been ordered not to detain pirates under any circumstances, for fear that they might something or other, because of the Human Rights Act. The details are opportunely left open; the usual formation of the story makes only two testable claims, one of which is that landing a captured pirate in Somalia would likely be illegal because the local authorities might cut their head off, and the other being that the pirate might claim political asylum aboard ship.

What the story does not actually say is why this would stop anyone from detaining pirates, or for that matter why the same doesn't go for the French. After all, as a State party to the European Convention on Human Rights, France has the same legal obligations. Now, the first claim is obviously true in the sense that yes, Virginia, Somalia is a nasty failed state run by a mix of more-or-less Islamist warlords and Ethiopian army officers. Handing someone over to this lot for trial might well be illegal. But has nobody else noticed that it would also be intensely, profoundly stupid?

Who on earth would want to return captured pirates to the state, or rather un-state, that permitted them to operate openly from their territory? Even if the Somali authority they were returned to actually wanted to try them, you've got to assume there's a significant chance of them getting away. In fact, the French mission gives us all the information we need; the pirates collected the ransom, went ashore, and seem to have planned just to drive off with it, which doesn't inspire confidence in local law enforcement.

Further, there is no legal reason whatsoever to give pirates captured off Somalia to the Somali police. Pirates have a special status in international law they share with slavers, torturers and those responsible for genocide; they are hostes humanae generis, enemies of all humanity, which in practice means that any state that can catch them has effective jurisdiction in the case. Once the pirates are caught, there is absolutely no reason not to take them to a proper court back in London, or wherever. That given, why should we need to even think about handing them over to a jurisdiction where they might escape, be tortured, or be put to death?

The second testable claim is that a captured pirate might claim political asylum. This is true. A longstanding principle of the law of the sea is that of exclusive flag state jurisdiction, which means that a warship of state A is for all intents and purposes part of A's national territory. The principle holds in a weaker form for merchant vessels. Americans really ought to be conscious of this, because they fought a war against Britain in part over the principle.

Now, a story. When I took my MSc in 2003-2004, my International Law course was taught by Commander Steven Haines, who had just resigned from his post as a senior legal adviser to the Royal Navy, round about the same time Elizabeth Wilmshurst walked out of her similar post at the Foreign Office. In fact, I heard Wilmshurst's name for the first time from him. He didn't give his reasons, but do I need to draw you a fucking diagram? (He's also the only person I know who ever had control of a nuclear weapon. Cool, eh? Pity he took so bloody long to mark essays.)

Haines took part in the 2000 intervention in Sierra Leone, where he was involved in the decision as to what to do with limb-choppin' war criminal Foday Sankoh after his capture. The military were keen to fly him straight out to Illustrious, as he's not known for being a great swimmer and would be very unlikely to escape; Haines opposed the idea on the grounds that he might claim political asylum, which would have been politically more than problematic. Instead he was confined at the airport and then in the Freetown police station with a guard reinforced with British troops, but later cheated the courts by dying before he could be brought to trial.

So the problem is not new, but it's not like it helped Sankoh any. And there is no reason why some one can't spend their political asylum in prison; it doesn't confer immunity for one's crimes, and piracy is a crime. (That is both bathetically and pathetically obvious, but there is an important point here which we'll come back to.)

To recap: yes, it would be illegal to hand over a pirate to Somali warlords for trial. No, this does not constrain anyone in catching pirates, because anyone who can catch them can try them. And frankly, not handing prisoners to the Somali "government" is a feature, not a bug. Yes, you can claim asylum aboard a foreign warship; no, this is no deal-breaker.

So what did those thrillingly tough and macho Frenchmen do with their six captured buccaneers? They, after all, aren't letting themselves have their national essence sapped by do-gooding lawyers and bickering parliamentarians' quibbles, right? Up to the yard-arm? Walk the plank? Hand them to the fun-loving fellas from Ethiopian Military Intelligence? Er, no.
Six pirates sont transférés à bord de la frégate Jean Bart et ils seront remis à la justice pour être jugés en France.
So yes, the six pirates were brought aboard the Jean Bart and will be tried in France.

Far too many people who should know better have swallowed this transparent bollocks at face value, or indeed, at a considerable premium. For example: here's Information Dissemination getting it wrong. Here's Abu Muqawama getting it wrong. Here's Abu Muq getting it wrong again after initial treatment. I don't have the stomach to look into the fever swamp.

So why, do you think, is this story being pushed so hard? The ur-text is this Times article, which consists of pure assertion - there is no information in there implying the central claim, that the RN has been ordered not to detain pirates - and a quote from swivel-eyed Tory Julian Brazer MP apparently reacting to the Times reporter. Repeat it a few times, and voila; new facts.

But who, pray, is keen on demonising the very idea of law as a constraint on state action? Try this comment at AM:
Ultimately the very notion of law itself may be bought into disrepute. As it is already in the ranks of the American forces.
See? It's those bastard lawyers who MADE us torture them. Indeed it was; just not the same ones. This kind of embrace of raison d'etat has something of the power of all the ideas of a liberation from freedom about it.

By the way: as well as the Reuters report, Liberation has photos and commentary from the guy who runs Secret Defense.

Update: I'd forgotten that the original Captain Kidd was commissioned by the Navy to hunt down other pirates. He was a countergang that went wrong. Now there's a far better lesson for you.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Announcement: TYR RanterCon, 17th April

Here is the news; we're meeting up on Thursday, the 17th April, after 1900 at the Globe pub in Southwark. Here's a map; your nearest Tube station is Borough. There is no dress code, but I've been asked to put the whole thing under Chatham House rules (you can say what was said, but you can't say anything that would identify who said it).

View Larger Map

Monday, April 14, 2008

You Say Virgin, We Say Die!

So, after the Phorm evilhood, and the weird brokenness detailed here, and the 30-odd hour no-notice outage they dropped on me just after I started working from home, literally driving me to drink (the nearest operational open WLAN I found was in a pub), now Virgin Media comes up with this. It's not just the delight with which they want to deliberately spoil everyone else's day to extract cash from non-customers, it's the contempt, to say nothing of the ideological horror within revealed by someone who thinks bus lanes exist to make buses go slower. Well, I've got all the contempt anyone can handle, so I've just churned to I'll be cancelling on Virgin just as soon as they hook up my new ADSL link.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The real minimal state

Well, I never imagined Robert Mugabe's new survival gambit would be just to pretend it wasn't happening. But it does permit us to answer the question of just how small a state can get and still function; to be clear, I don't mean a state in the juridical/diplomatic sense, but rather in the political, realist sense. The Grand Master of the Knights of Malta's house in Rome has some diplomatic privileges, probably because nobody cares enough to change this. But Mugabe's continuing occupation of the office of president of a political entity called "Zimbabwe" certainly does have consequences; specifically that while he's in there no-one else can get in. This has fairly serious negative consequences for Zimbabweans in general, and also for anyone who believes in the principle that tyrants should be held responsible, as his residual occupation of the presidency gives him non-trivial bargaining power.

As far as we know, he's closeted in Government House with a small group of officials, notably including military leaders, political thugs, and the governor of the Central Bank, who has the keys to the remaining foreign exchange and knows how to start the printing press. Noises are being made that the military will not "fight the people of Zimbabwe over election results"; that might mean they would fight over something else, or else define the targets as something other than the people of Zimbabwe, or it might mean the army is unwilling to take any action.

Other than, presumably, protecting Comrade Bob himself. A few weeks ago, it emerged that the political entity known as "Chad" actually extended precisely to the radius of action of an Mi-24 helicopter based in N'Djamena. But now, it appears that "Zimbabwe" in the political sense consists of Government House, the central bank, and a small field of fire around them, and the numbers to Robert Mugabe's bank accounts. Not even the top level domain or the corporate or aircraft registry.

The obvious answer to this is secession; make local arrangements, set up a shadow administration, and simply ignore them right back. I am!

I have been away, cutting down to only very restricted Internet/computing usage, and living in a district that would make Abu Muq piss his baggy pants. (Walthamstow, he says. You've never been to Bradford, have you?) Which is amusing, because (as in every poor/immigrant 'hood in Europe) every second business is a mobile phone/computer shop. You can pick up a wrap, an Algerian hooker, and an 8GB Nokia N95 in the same queue. But I succeeded in not opening my laptop for a whole seven days, which is a record for me at any time since 2004 at least. This gives rise to a challenge; how quickly can I resynchronise myself with my auxiliary brain? So far I've spent all of today slurping up a week's worth of blogs, to say nothing of the e-mail; the comments, the spam, the news services, and a number of high-activity mailing lists.

And isn't it fucking horrible? I just decided to skip Sadly, No! and a few others; one forgets just how much ideological trench warfare blogging we get through in a week. Anyway, to business. (Speaking of which, there's the work re-sync coming up tomorrow. Thank God I zeroed my inbox before going on holiday. And, yes, I have been reading them; you want to know whether you're going to have to run off the plane and form a defensive perimeter around your job...) I am delighted to see that a hitherto unknown revolutionary political-theatre collective, something similar to the Space Hijackers, successfully staged a demonstration that satirised literally every feature of the Blair/Brown years in one chaotic afternoon of low-level violence, massive traffic disruption, heavy-handed policing, and blanket media coverage.

I refer, of course, to the people who staged the mock Olympic torch relay through London. It was a great idea in itself, but the genius was in the details; who would have thought of including nameless foreign security police beating up thought-criminals while pretending to be Olympic Committee bigwigs? And then, they set about Sebastian Coe, a real Olympic bigwig and one of the most annoying men in the kingdom? And then, who would have imagined a sort of Jim'll Fix It slot in which the ambassador of a vicious dictatorship got to pretend to be a world champion runner with the aid of thousands of cops?

Working Tessa Jowell in there was inspired ("Your Excellency, Auntie Tessa fixed it for you!"), but having the speeches drowned out by a monster sound truck advertising the products of some other country that didn't toast its industrial base by playing dire pseudo-stripper cheesepop at maximum volume right there in Downing Street? Genius. It just says it all - the authoritarianism, the obsession with "events", the utterly whorish foreign policy, the corporate arse-licking, the total absence of anything like taste or class, and the fucking people. Seb Coe. Tessa Jowell. Yes!

Hand that man an Arts Council fellowship. Seriously, it's like a committee of Chris Morris, Mark Thomas, Linda Smith (yes, I know) and Tim Ireland designed the whole thing. They'll never try the real one now, will they?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Torture Lawyers

If you can read you should read this if you read nothing else this decade. It's all about how the Americans started torturing people, whose idea it was, how men like John Yoo came to provide the legal justifications, who was keen (the ideological core of the administration), who didn't want to know (the FBI and, curiously, the US Navy's Criminal Investigative Service). It is intensely depressing, and the only hope in it is the precedent from Nuremberg that a lawyer who is involved in a war crime in their legal capacity can be just as guilty as the torturer.

Here's the most significant bit, if that means anything at this level of degradation:
On September 25, as the process of elaborating new interrogation techniques reached a critical point, a delegation of the administration’s most senior lawyers arrived at Guantánamo. The group included the president’s lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, who had by then received the Yoo-Bybee Memo; Vice President Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington, who had contributed to the writing of that memo; the C.I.A.’s John Rizzo, who had asked for a Justice Department sign-off on individual techniques, including waterboarding, and received the second (and still secret) Yoo-Bybee Memo; and Jim Haynes, Rumsfeld’s counsel. They were all well aware of al-Qahtani. “They wanted to know what we were doing to get to this guy,” Dunlavey told me, “and Addington was interested in how we were managing it.” I asked what they had to say. “They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in D.C.,” Dunlavey said. “They came down to observe and talk.” Throughout this whole period, Dunlavey went on, Rumsfeld was “directly and regularly involved.”

Beaver confirmed the account of the visit. Addington talked a great deal, and it was obvious to her that he was a “very powerful man” and “definitely the guy in charge,” with a booming voice and confident style. Gonzales was quiet. Haynes, a friend and protégé of Addington’s, seemed especially interested in the military commissions, which were to decide the fate of individual detainees. They met with the intelligence people and talked about new interrogation methods. They also witnessed some interrogations.

Addington. Addington. At every ugly hinge of the Bush years, he's there. I'd never heard of him until at least 2006, when the Stiftung turned me on to the story. I wonder if he was a member of the White House Iraq Group? Another one we never cleared up.

This depresses me for other reasons; at the end of 2001, I was just about still prepared to defend them. I never imagined they would want to keep the prisoners indefinitely; better in their hands than those of the Northern Alliance, right? The penny finally dropped for me with the decision to refuse them POW status in early 2002. But looking back, should I have been angrier earlier? Not that it would have helped; but I do think I consistently underestimated them. I was always opposed to Iraq - but right up to the end I didn't really believe they meant it.

It seemed so crazed, the only explanation I could think of was that it was an exercise in madman theory (and you all know what I think of that); once the inspectors went back in, and they started cutting up rockets and flying Mirage F1-CR recce planes, wouldn't this be the end? Or at least, wouldn't it be enough for us? What I didn't realise, of course, was that they wanted war for reasons that had very little to do with the war; for Blair it was presumably to cling to the US. And for Addington?

His significance, I think, is that it's all been about law; they wanted and dreamed of escaping the constraints of the legal state, and no wonder they started at the top.

Update: Pathos to bathos in a flash. Yes, that should have been John Yoo, not Woo. Perhaps they should have hired John Woo; he'd have danced round his own arse on the tip of a Tomahawk missile while chop-socking Addington into diced wanker and collapsing Osama's occiput with a diamond-edged writ. They'd have told all they knew, willingly.

In the Metropolis, a sinister cabal...

Who's up for a reader meetup on the evening of the 17th of April in Big London? So far, most of the Danosphere, Charlie Whitaker, EJH Pollard, Alan Beattie and I will be meeting that evening in a pub yet to be determined in the general area of Blackfriars. I predict there will be ale, and an answer to the question of whether I have any readers who aren't called Dan, Charlie or Chris. Or, indeed, if any of them are women. At all.

Someone suggested subfusc and Venetian masks, or else a NANOG-style 5 minute lightning talk on a subject of common concern each. (Why not lightning talks while wearing masks?) But don't worry; come as you are; you don't want to end up looking like the great Richard Clayton in this photo. He didn't wear that suit to the Royal Society...

Human Capital Saving in a Terrorist Cell

King's College London's terribly smart and not at all sinister Insurgency Research Group have some relevant facts about a controversy between Daniel Davies and I. Recap: Dan apparently believes that it's better to let jihadis advertise on the Internet, on the principle that they will attract lots of idiots, self-dramatising teens, and committee fetishists, who will destroy their effectiveness as a revolutionary movement.

I disagree; this form of terrorism has a special feature, in that it not only has the ability to make use of these people, but in fact it actually wants them. All they need is one self-defeating burst of dramatic childish rage. Stupidity and ego histrionics are actually qualifications, if the job you're recruiting for is "meat guidance package for our expensive explosives". Given that the person concerned doesn't need to live independently or make any decisions - in fact, you want to prevent them doing either, as this has a negative impact on mission success - the people you need are precisely the ones who wouldn't make acceptable infantrymen in an army of any kind. (Middle-class wankers tend to believe this includes them; history suggests they can hack it.)

No, what you want are the ones the sergeant would break his heart over. From the point of view of a harassed, super-minority movement with a small supply of capable people and resources of every kind - this is actually how Osama sees the world jihad, according to his statement With a Band of Knights - what would you do? You need to preserve bombmakers, recruiters, and competent conspirators; the answer is a cadre system, where they recruit, supply, fit out, and target a steady flow of rubes. In Iraq, recruiting angry young Saudis through this system has the further benefit that, like third-rate Formula One racers, they pay the team for the drive.

The IRG post is about one of India's many longrunning small-scale insurgencies; they reacted to a government strategy of targeting their leaders by recruiting the poor, or rather the marginal half-bright younger sons of the poor, to do the dirty work. The lads who got the shit job tended to be young, illiterate, and involved at the fringes of criminal gangs. Poverty of every kind is still the motivator. The answer is clear - tack to the left. Counterinsurgency is just the respectable form of Marx.

Phorm, how do I hack thee?

Let me count the ways.

If you think Phorm - the evil advert-spooking system practically all the UK's eyeball ISPs want to force on you - isn't so bad, I've got news for you. First of all, let's have a look at this Grauniad Tech article.
BT's 2006 trials certainly involved some sort of interception, because the data streams had extra Javascript inserted into them - which puzzled a number of people at the time. Two examples can be seen at the forums of and In both, the Javascript and other tags inserted by the 121Media system are clearly visible, with one showing the referring page and possibly "interests" of the member. Both contain links to - the 121Media-owned site through which BT sent browser requests during the 2006 trials and later ones in summer 2007.

OK. So not only were they snooping, but Phorm actually injects not just data - like a cookie - but code into your URL requests, so their customer websites react differently as a result. It's especially worrying that what they are adding is JavaScript; it's not just data, it's program logic. It does things. And, as any user of modern Web 2.0 services should realise, you can do all kinds of things with it - for example, you can call other web servers from within a web page without reloading. There is no way for you - the person whose BT, Virgin or Carphone Warehouse billing record stands behind the IP address that stands behind the identifier Phorm assigned - to know what such code does until after the fact.

Now, consider this; the good people of F-Secure unpicking the latest trend in security threats, the iFrame injection. It works like this - a lot of websites catch the search requests they receive and cache them, either to speed up the search process or to provide suggestions with the search results. This means that the search string...appears in a web page on their servers. So, if you fire enough popular search terms (which you can get from their website...) in, and append your attack code, there's a chance it'll get cached. And then, a visitor who uses the same search terms will get a page that contains the attack code; JavaScript is executed in the client side - i.e on the visitor's computer - so you're in.

So, let's put them together; if you're a Phorm customer, you can get the interests and web habits (and billing data?) of everyone in the UK delivered to your dodgy website in real time, and then you can reload anything you damn well like in their browser based on that information. Suddenly - let's back off here. It'll be someone unpopular. At first. So or sends you to; and there's fuck all you can do about it, except try to explain the concepts of "deep packet inspection", "iFRAME SEO injection", and the like to a court of law.

Paranoia, right? Not so much.

You think that's scary? Here's some more F-Secure for you. There is at least one exploit out there, which could be delivered through the lines we just discussed, that writes dubious code to the BIOS - the low-level insect brain of a computer, the bit that lights up the screen, spins up the hard drive, and explains how to read the boot sector and start the operating system. The only fix there, I think, would be to format the fucking lot and install something completely different - or throw the damn thing in the sea.

But here's where it gets bad; the thing nicks your online banking passwords. And then what does it do? It puts money into your bank account. Feel free to speculate.

Update: Now that's what I call an April Fool from F-Secure. A cracker. This is of course without prejudice to the rest of the post, but I should have realised there would be no way they'd have included a live link to the exploit if it was real. If you were brave enough to follow it,'d get the joke.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Solidarity with the oppressed police informers

Not looking great for Comrade Bob, which is fine news to anyone other than a blind-thick arsewit. David Osler thrashes Stephen Glover over a gaggle of strawmen about how "the Left" secretly support Zanu-PF; he's right, you know. I've said before that Tories still have a very odd relationship to Southern Africa, and here is exhibit A - check out the raging projection as he struggles to avoid the thought of Margaret Thatcher and Lord Carrington arranging for Mugabe to take power in the first place, whilst also trying to dog whistle the old Rhodesia lobby without breaking cover. Gah.

But this made me think; surely, somebody's going to mourn Robert Mugabe. Probably...How long before Neil Clark or John Laughland comes out of the woodwork to accuse the MDC of being as bad as Hitler, or something? Checking up, I find Clark is fully occupied accusing Nicolas Sarkozy of being as bad as Petain, but no doubt he'll get to it in due course.


Az-zaman, via Cole reports that the Iraqi government "honoured" SCIRI...sorry...ISIC militiamen for their role in the Basra fighting, and that some 10,000 of them were officially signed up to the Government's own forces (I thought they already were). The reason for this step is apparently that large numbers - thousands - of men in the Iraqi Army and other forces deserted rather than take part in the offensive. There is more here; supposedly two regiments did so in Baghdad, but I'd warn that what they call a regiment may just be an example of unit inflation.

Now, over at Kaboom! (officially the Colby Buzzell of 2008), here's some corroboration.
Day 2: I stand in the streets, looking at a building with a sloping roof and two cannonball-sized holes in the middle of it. We have spent many hours zigzagging through the various Shi’a neighborhood cores in Anu al-Verona, but it is only now, with the light of the morning, that the full scope of JAM’s resurgent spectacle is comprehended. The aforementioned holes are the gift of an Iraqi Army’s BMP (armored personnel carrier) main gun, and the aforementioned building is the local Sawha headquarters. The one Son of Iraq who bothered to show up for work today expresses his displeasure with the situation. I thank him for his devotion to duty and ask him where his coworkers are. He looks at me like I have a dick growing out of my forehead and says, “they are at home, of course. It is not safe here.” I ask him why he isn’t home then. “Because my father kicked me out and told me to go to work and I have nowhere else to go.”

My bold. OK, so not only did some members of the Iraqi Army go over to the other side, but these ones took their BMP with them - and immediately turned its guns on the ex-NOIA guys, with the result that they made themselves scarce (or possibly set off for the nearest concentration of Shia for some revenge). There have been reports scattered around of the Sadrists capturing armoured vehicles from the government, but most have referred to Humvees and such; this is the first heavy armour to be mentioned.

It can be pretty heavy, too; the BMP-3, despite ranking as an infantry fighting vehicle, carries a 100mm gun. I don't know which version we supplied to the Iraqi government (I think the armour came from Hungarian stocks). Meanwhile, Des Browne says:
At one point, he said, British tanks, armored vehicles, artillery and ground troops were deployed to help extract Iraqi government troops from a firefight with Shiite militiamen in the city.

Extract; as in "cover the retreat of", "aid in escape of", or just "save" them. It's Sadr's move, it always has been; as far as I can see, the only meaningful exit strategy has always been to recognise the people with actual mass support, so NOIA in the Sunni sector and Sadr in the Shia sector. Half of this has actually been done, although nobody wants to admit it; the problem is that their territories overlap. Lieutenant G's area of responsibility is exhibit A; he's far enough north to have 1920 Revolution Brigade NOIA on his side, but this doesn't mean he doesn't also have a major Sadrist presence.

Extra points: did anyone else spot Chalabi claiming credit for the ceasefire?

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